What exactly is discipline?
First, let’s try to understand what discipline is. Did you know that the root of the word “discipline” is Discipulus, which means “pupil, disciple.” Mmmmm… two words related to learning from someone. This gives parents great insight into the very purpose of discipline, which is to teach! So the main goal when disciplining should be teaching your little “pupil”.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see your child is old enough to be disciplined because they are old enough to learn. Toddler discipline is simply about setting rules and boundaries and consistently following through so your child understands what is expected.
Helpful Tips and Tricks for Disciplining a Toddler:
- Principle or Preference?: Before stepping in, ask yourself “Is it a matter of principle or is it simply a preference?”. If your child hurts someone, puts themselves in danger or breaks a house rule, that is a matter of principle. You need to take action to avoid that type of behavior in the future. If your child insists on something you don’t really enjoy (like wearing a mismatched pajama top and bottom to bed, choosing their own cup, etc) it’s a preference. You don’t necessarily need to step in. Choose your battles wisely because throughout the toddler years there will be many issues you have to step in on and you don’t want to waste time, or energy (or tantrums) on issues that are not a matter of principle.
- Use natural and logical consequences: Sometimes there is a natural or logical consequence that can help you discipline your child. For example, your toddler may want to sleep with a stuffed animal at bedtime, but chooses to throw it out of the crib. The natural consequence would be your toddler can’t have that stuffed animal because it’s on the floor and can’t be reached. Or, your child wants to go to the park but refuses to put shoes on. The natural consequence would be they can’t go to the park because they aren’t wearing shoes. If your child dumps out a basket of toys, the logical consequence would be for your toddler to put the toys back in the basket. Maybe your child is jumping around while on your lap. The logical consequence would be your toddler couldn’t sit on your lap until they stopped. Natural and logical consequences won’t work for every situation. For example, if your child is doing anything where the natural consequence would hurt them, stop your toddler before they get hurt, and do not inflict pain on them as a “logical” consequence.
- Redirect Behavior: Toddler discipline sometimes only requires that you, the parent, redirect behavior. If your child finds a pen and walks around looking for something to color, simply take them to the table, give them their washable crayons and a coloring book and let them color. If your toddler enjoys screaming for the fun of it, play some toddler music and let them sing along. If your child keeps stacking up the DVDs or books on the floor, help them clean up, then get out some blocks and work with them to make a tower. The toddler years are full of a learning and discovery, so help your child learn and discover in ways that fit into your house rules.
- Timeout: Timeout can be a very helpful tool to teach your toddler. The purpose of a timeout is to give your toddler time alone to think and calm down. Some toddlers are not ready for timeouts. Do not turn timeout into a game of chase. If your toddler is old enough to understand the rules then it may help to put them in timeout when they break the rules. For example, if your child continues to hit or kick or bite, you could remove them from the situation and sit them down somewhere for a short time. The general rule is 1 minute per year old, but sometimes that is just too long for a young toddler. Sometimes a 30 second timeout is long enough for the timeout to serve it’s purpose. Also, if you have a young toddler, it may work better if you don’t expect them to sit in a very specific way. Just sitting for the specified time should be enough until they are accustomed to timeouts. It may help when implementing timeouts if you show your child with a stuffed animal or doll what a time out is. Do this at a time when your child is not needing correction so they can calmly watch to understand.
- Be Consistent: Probably the most important thing you can do to discipline your toddler, and in turn, teach your toddler is to be consistent. If the rule was no jumping on the bed yesterday, then keep that rule for today. If your toddler is supposed to clean up toys before Mom puts him/her to bed, have your child clean up toys before Dad puts him/her to bed too. If a child had to go to timeout for throwing a car at the dog yesterday then if the child does it again today the consequence should be the same. Your toddler needs to understand your rules and their consequences and also that they are always expected to follow those rules. The best way to teach this is to have consistent toddler discipline.
Toddler discipline can seem tricky, but really when you break it down, discipline tactics are all about teaching your child. If you consistently teach your child, s/he will begin to learn what behaviors are acceptable and what are not. Disciplining your toddler can be as simple as choosing battles wisely, redirecting toddler behavior, using consequences that make sense, implementing timeouts when needed and staying consistent!